Speaking before a red-meat conservative audience in Washington D.C., National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Cornyn did something a bit rare, he pleaded for political moderation in the party's efforts to regain control of the Senate.
"I would rather have a Republican who votes with me 80 percent of the time than a liberal Democrat who would vote with me 0 percent of the time," said the Texas Republican. "I understand that occasionally we get frustrated by the way that some of my colleagues vote, I do too. But a circular firing squad is no solution to the problems our party faces right now."
It was one of the few times that the audience had been asked to put aside their ideological orthodoxy in exchange for electoral leverage. Indeed, the vast majority of speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference had enthusiastically rejected the notion that the Republican Party needed a re-thinking of its philosophical pillars. What was needed, they offered, was firmer, more passionate and aggressive opposition to the Democratic powers that be. As if on cue, the very next speaker to address the crowd, Sen. Jim DeMint, laced into congressional leadership -- accusing it of a lack of willingness to say the word "freedom" -- and the president himself, calling Barack Obama "the world's best salesman of socialism."
Cornyn, for sure, didn't tone down the sharp critiques of his political opposition. But his was a numbers game. "Having 41 [Republican Senators] means that we have leverage to block bad legislation or more importantly to shape it. And to bring Democrats to the negotiating table," he said. "Our mission is clear: we must win most republican seats. We must build a new majority."
As for the 2010 elections -- which seem, at this moment, to offer Democrats a good chance to expand their majority -- Cornyn called the landscape "promising."
"We have to hold," he said, open seats in Ohio, Missouri and Florida. While there was a chance for the GOP to pick up seats in New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada, "and yes, even California."